Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Travel hitch delays Mallorca Tripartite session

By Brian Reyes in Palma de Mallorca

Chief Minister Peter Caruana landed in Palma de Mallorca late yesterday afternoon ahead of the third meeting of the trilateral forum for dialogue set up by the British, Gibraltar and Spanish governments.

But the talks failed to meet yesterday evening’s schedule and got off to a bumpy start after the British delegation ran into an unexpected travel delay en route from Madrid to the Balearic Islands. The Spanish delegation apparently held on to travel with them.

A photo call set for 8pm last night was postponed to first thing this morning. The discussions got under way around 8.30pm last night.

Initial logistical hiccups aside, the talks are expected to centre on key themes already raised at previous encounters, including expanded use of the airport, the pensions’ issue and telecommunications.

Spanish concerns over repairs to nuclear submarines have also been discussed in the past and are likely to be raised this week, a spokesman for the Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry (Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores MAE) told the Chronicle.

The spokesman added that the overall aim of this latest meeting was to continue the forum’s work and prepare the ground for a ministerial-level meeting before the end of the year. This would bring together Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Chief Minister for the first time ever. The current process started last February. A meeting at that level would most likely only be called if there were important agreements to be signed and ratified by the three governments.

Mr Caruana had been scheduled to have a working dinner last night with Jose Pons, director general for Europe and North America at the Spanish government’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Dominick Chilcott, director for Mediterranean Europe at the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

All three men have been closely involved in the discussions from the outset and the Chief Minister and Mr Pons met at the end of last month to prepare for this week’s meeting.

The latest round of talks is being hosted by Spain at the Hotel Punta Negra in Calviá, Mr Pons’ home town on the island of Palma de Mallorca. A press conference and media interviews are scheduled for this afternoon after the end of the talks.

Mr Caruana is accompanied by his chief secretary Ernest Montado, deputy chief secretary Richard Armstrong and press secretary Francis Cantos. The Gibraltar delegation is due to fly back to the Rock this evening.

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